St. Andrew’s River Heights had its start near downtown Winnipeg, on the corner of Elgin Ave. and Ellen St. Organized as a Presbyterian church in 1881, the old St. Andrew’s was noted from the beginning for its outspoken preachers and activity in missionary and other outreach activities.
In the twentieth century’s first decade, however, the congregation began moving to the suburbs. Its 850 members were soon scattered across the city. They particularly favored the new residential neighborhood of River Heights immediately south of the Assiniboine River.
Rather than simply move, the congregation decided to open a “branch office” on land purchased on the corner of Oak. St. and Kingsway Ave. The first building, on the north end of this site, was finished in the fall of 1915 at a total cost of $7,000. A dedication service was held on October 24.
Only a few weeks later on December 27 the new church was destroyed by fire.
Following the 1915 fire, the congregation wasted no time before rebuilding. The new church was ready by the summer of 1916, and opened on June 25. Described in the press “as a great improvement in every way on the one it replaces,” the building cost about $8,000 with an additional $2,000 spent on “furnishings”.
The sanctuary had seating for 610. At the time it was expected that a larger church would be needed “in a few years”.
For the first decade of its life St Andrew’s River Heights remained integrated with the Elgin Avenue congregation, as this 1921 calendar shows.
From the very earliest days children’s activities were important at St Andrew’s. In this picture the Mission Band gathers on the front steps of the church in the spring of 1923.
In 1926 St. Andrew’s Elgin and St. Andrew’s River Heights became separate, self-sustaining congregations.
In 1929 the present auditorium, called at the time “the new basement”, was built at the south end of the Oak Street site. It opened in 1930 as the center for expanding Christian education programs. The depression prevented further building.
But in the early 1940s the need for a larger sanctuary had become very clear. Meeting in late 1943, the board of managers agreed to present to the congregation at the next annual meeting a proposal to establish a building fund “for the raising of money with which to erect in due course of time a suitable church building at the site on the corner of Oak and Kingsway”.
By September 1945 the building fund chairman was able to report contributions of almost $44,000. By October 1946 the total had reached $59,000.
Plans continued apace under the enthusiastic leadership of pastor John McInnis and the many Winnipeg business and professional men who belonged to the congregation of more than 1,000 families. A year later funds on hand reached $100,000.
In the spring of 1948 design work began on a new building (our present sanctuary) to be erected over the “new basement”.
A year later construction was underway and plans were being made for a dedication service eventually held Friday June 2, 1950, after delays due to the flood that spring.
The project was financed by $133,000 in cash and pledges, and $50,000 in 4.5% bonds. With the booming economic conditions of the time and continued growth of River Heights and nearby neighborhoods, that debt was paid off by 1954.
As soon as the new sanctuary was in place, plans were laid to demolish the old 1916 church and replace it with our current Christian education building.
At the time, John McInnis wrote that the oncoming generation, having learned what the bible has to teach and what the enlightened and sensitive conscience of the church has to say about faith and life, can help mightily to build a better world.
Extra space was sorely needed. At this time, with the baby boom peaking, Sunday School enrollment exceeded 800. Yes, that’s not a misprint. Brownie and Cub pack membership totaled 260.
A campaign to raise $200,000 soon began. In the spring of 1955 about 700 members attended a dinner held to promote the project and encourage financial pledges. Subsequently it was reported that the chairman and co-chairman had pledged themselves for $20,000, and that 25 pledges picked at random from a cross-section of canvassers totaled $13,904.
The cornerstone of the new Christian education building was laid in October 1955 and the structure was essentially complete by January 1956.
Though by 1955 our building looked essentially as it does today, improvements and additions continued over the years. In 1958 the congregation’s musical life took a big leap forward with installation of a new Casavant organ
By 1959 St. Andrew’s was described as one of the largest and wealthiest congregations in the United Church. Membership was listed as 1,280 families and 2,422 individuals. Sunday School students numbered 1,015 and “women’s association” membership reached 661. Those were golden years.
A 1963 article by Kenneth Bagnell in “The Observer” talked about Cadillacs lining nearby streets on Sunday mornings, and the large number of business leaders, medical doctors and other professionals attending services.
Earle Gordon, who by then had succeeded John McInnis, was quoted as saying that the church had very few really wealthy families, “but a great many in the high-income bracket” of $10,000 to $20,000 per year.
Bagnell noted, however, that beneath the glitter was a vigorous and vital congregation active in church, cultural, political and social causes across Winnipeg and beyond.
The congregation was also notable for a progressiveness which recognized that not all social and religious conventions and proscriptions ought to be cast in stone, and that the society of the 1960s was not the society that gave birth to the congregation back in the 1880s.
A 1966 report in the “Free Press” described what it called “a unique marriage service” at St. Andrew’s (the bride’s church). Officiating clergy were Earle Gordon and A.F. Seaman, curate of Immaculate Conception (the groom’s church). The ceremony, it was suggested, may have been the first in Canada where Catholic and Protestant clergy officiated together in a Protestant church.
A significant event occurred in 1962 with formation of the United Church Women (UCW). Comprising the former Women’s Association and Women’s Missionary Society, this new group over the years raised large sums of money for maintenance and replacement of church property and furnishings, as well as for major projects such as decorating and furnishing the lounge in 1967.
In 1975 St. Andrew’s celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, and in 1977 an outside ramp was added at the south end of the building to make the sanctuary more accessible.
Room 209 was converted to the chapel in 1979, then in 1981 the organ pipes were relocated to improve the instrument’s sound quality. In subsequent years new sound and audio equipment was installed in the sanctuary.
The 1990s also brought sadness, with the closing of our parent church, St. Andrew’s Elgin. Members were invited to join the River Heights congregation and minister Gaston Viallard presented us with a painting of the old church.
When Terry and Phyllis Hidichuk arrived in 1994 we were able to welcome them with a message on our big new illuminated sign.
In recent years, as our building began to show the ravages of 50 years of heavy use, substantial resources were directed toward major maintenance and equipment upgrades. Projects included a new furnace and re-roofing. Some construction took place as members of the congregation contributed time and money to Habitat for Humanity housing projects across Winnipeg.
In 2002, a hearing assistance system was installed in the sanctuary. Hearing devices are available at the back of the sanctuary for every Sunday service or special service during the week.
After several months of information sharing and discussion with the congregation, the Board approved a motion to enable our ministers to perform same-sex covenanting services (and same-sex marriages, pending expected changes in civil law).
Our 90th Anniversary year turned out to be a most eventful one. After many years of dreaming, hoping, planning and fundraising projects such as ‘Living in the Image of God’, we were finally able to begin the task of building the elevator with the hopes of it being completed in 2006.
St. Andrew’s continues to reach out into the wider community in challenging and interesting ways – Hustle for Hunger with monies going to Agape Table, the Greening Fair where environmentally friendly products were demonstrated and offered for sale and The Memory Tree, where individuals from our congregation and community were able to purchase lights on our outdoor tree in memory of a loved one which illuminated our grounds and neighbourhood at Christmas time. Proceeds of The Memory Tree went to Jocelyn House.
We welcomed Rev. Karen Lumley to her ministry at St. Andrew’s with Rev. Dr. Terry Hidichuk. We bade ‘au revoir’ to our organist Linda Fearn, who accepted a position at St. Peter’s Anglican Church and welcomed Wes Elias as our new organist.
Phase One of the sanctuary renovation project was completed. This phase saw the chancel remodeled with a beautiful wooden semi-circular floor, risers and new padded chairs for the choir and new pulpit and communion table. The front pews of the sanctuary were also removed and replaced with padded chairs and additional pews were also removed at the back of the sanctuary under the balcony. It was felt the replacement of the pews with the chairs makes for a more multi-use space and can be adapted for many types of needs.
A number of major and minor projects were also undertaken: upgrading of the lighting in a large portion of the church building; insulation (to R37) and shingling of the sanctuary roof area, including new fascia, eaves trough and downspouts as well as painting projects throughout the church, inside and outside.
Rev. Dr. Terry Hidichuk bid us farewell in 2010 as he accepted the position of Acting Dean of Theology at the University of Winnipeg. A JNAC (Joint Needs Assessment Committee) was formed and it was determined that our congregation felt it was important to hire a second minister. This led to the formation of the JSC (Joint Search Committee), which recommended a ministerial candidate to work with our present minister, Rev. Karen Lumley. We were very thankful to our Candidate for Ministry , Joshua Ward, for helping Rev. Lumley to fulfill all the needs of our congregation.
St. Andrew’s was very busy with outreach in 2010. Hustle for Hunger took place on October 16 raising over $4,000 for Agape Table. The congregation was also very generous in supporting three emergency international appeals – Haitian relief, Pakistan relief, as well as purchasing malaria mosquito nets.
Construction of a concrete pad with two bike racks at the northeast corner of the property was an addition in 2010. This initiative was spearheaded by the Sunday School children and their teachers.
The River Heights Farmer’s Market was a joint project of St. Andrew’s and the River Heights Community Centre which operated at the community centre during the months of July through the end of September.
We welcomed our new minister Rev. Dr. Lesley Fox in September 2011 to work alongside Rev. Karen Lumley.
The Senior Youth went to Guatemala on another Guatemala Mission Experience in March 2011.
The year’s major renovation project was the complete remodeling of the sub-narthex washrooms. This modernization of these washrooms considerably enhances the aesthetics of the lower level.
The Basement Bookstore opened in the downstairs library and continues to be open on Thursdays from 10-5.
St. Andrew’s enters the modern era with a Facebook Page and weekly blogs by our two ministers, Rev. Dr. Lesley Fox and Rev. Karen Lumley. With the formation of the Social Media Group in 2012, St. Andrew’s continues to explore its visibility in the community and to the congregation using social media.
Rev. Dr. Lesley Fox left St. Andrew’s to accept of call into military chaplaincy and began work with the Canadian Forces in August 2013. In September 2013, we welcomed Judy Limpright as our interim minister while we began the search for a new minister.
Rev. Cathy Kinsman accepted our call as St. Andrew’s Minister of the Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care.